A Big Mountain and a Big Risk
My husband Val and I just watched the movie Everest last Friday night, and aside from the obnoxiously loud conversations coming from the rude moviegoers around us, we really enjoyed it. The movie follows the true story of a group of mountaineers and their expedition to climb Mount Everest in 1996. Without giving away too much that isn’t clear from the trailers: A group of adventurers – all accomplished, but not professional, mountaineers – set out to scale the world’s tallest peak under the guidance of a professional expedition company.
Early on in the film, the climbers are asked why they want to climb Mount Everest, and their answers ranged from the desire to inspire kids – if a “regular guy” can accomplish his dreams, then so can they – to (channeling George Mallory) “because it’s there.” The peak of Mount Everest is the highest point on the entire earth, and the climber’s body literally begins to die upon reaching a certain altitude; thus reaching the peak is something the human body is simply not meant to do. So, of course we want to do it. I get it. Whenever I see a mountain, I feel an inherent desire somewhere deep inside of me to conquer it.
But most of the time, I don’t. And I wonder if most of the time, the people who have not only the desire to “conquer” Everest, but the means and experience to attempt it, maybe shouldn’t do it either. Think about it, aside from perhaps a handful of scientists who do so for research purposes, what is the point of touching the tip of the tallest mountain known to man? Bragging rights? Self-actualization? But, as we see in the movie, and in the long list of climbers who have attempted to climb Everest and never returned, it is a very real and very deadly risk to seek those bragging rights. Were those who died the ones who weren’t as prepared, or who didn’t have the right equipment, or made some mistake? No. Most of the time, it was something completely out of their control that caused their tragic deaths – experience and equipment are mere twigs in a battle against the world’s biggest mountain (and unpredictable weather to match). One out of every ten climbers who attempt to reach the peak of Everest lose that battle. Those are some serious odds.
Is the grand adventure, the goal of conquering this iconic mountain truly worth that kind of massive risk? I say no. I’m not about to go and risk my life unnecessarily in an effort to secure bragging rights – no matter how great it might sound to join the ranks of mountaineers who successfully climbed Everest. Personally, if my name is going to be remembered by history, I’d much rather be remembered for accomplishing something with a little more of an outward reaching impact – not as someone whose ego and income were big enough to match the world’s biggest hill.
What about Smaller Risks?
Sometimes even seemingly smaller risks are unnecessary and can have big consequences. Someone I follow on social media (whom I generally respect) recently urged their followers to go take a walk and continue until you don’t recognize the path you’re on – which sounds nice, except that this person also said, “don’t tell anyone and don’t bring your phone.” Really? I mean, I can understand the suggestion to leave your phone at home; we’re often far too eager to whip out the ol’ iPhone to snap a slew of selfies to the extent that we end up missing the true beauty around us (“gotta have the perfect pics for Instagram!”). So, I get that. It’s definitely a good idea to distance ourselves from technology and just be in the world for a little while.
But if you’re going to leave your phone at home, then you need to tell someone where you are going, and when they should expect you back. Ever heard the true story behind the movie 127 Hours? Aron Ralston was a real-life guy who decided to go out on a hike alone in the Utah desert. He didn’t take his phone with him and he didn’t tell anyone where he was headed. Nobody. He was climbing through a narrow desert canyon when a massive boulder became dislodged and pinned his arm. By the time anyone realized he was missing, they had no idea where to start looking. After five and a half days pinned under the boulder, in a last-ditch attempt to free himself he purposefully broke his arm’s radius and ulna bones, then cut off his own arm with a dull knife. Even after freeing himself from the canyon, missing one arm and bleeding toward death, he still had to rappel down a 65-foot sheer wall and hike 8 miles before he was rescued.
He was lucky to have survived.
So if you’re going to go out on a hike without your phone, please recognize that you can’t foresee every possible problem that might come up while you’re out exploring that could keep you from getting home (injury, weather, etc.). Someone needs to know where you are so that they can find you when you don’t come home.
Or, if for some reason the idea of someone else knowing where you are going on your outdoor adventure is going to ruin the mood for you, then for your own sake, take your dang phone. Same reason as above; you never know when a natural disaster will strike, or you’ll have an allergic reaction to a bug you didn’t know you were allergic to, or a massive storm will hit. If you refused to tell anyone where you were going, at least you have your phone with you. And even if something happens such that you’re unable to use it yourself to call for help, most recent-model phones can be tracked remotely via GPS – so someone can still find you.
It may seem like a small risk to go on a walk or hike without your phone and without telling anyone where you are headed, but little risks can still be unnecessary, and little risks can have huge consequences.
But Wait! Taking Risks is so Trendy!
This is the kind of sentiment I keep seeing on social media lately among the millennial “hipster” crowd (a group to which I’d claim at least partial allegiance) – “Just go,” they say, “don’t worry about the risks… This is your time to chase your dreams and see the world! Experience every adventure you can throw yourself into, and worry about the consequences later.”
I think this is a newer, hipper, version of the idea of Manifest Destiny – you know, that concept that led 19th-century America to conquering and “taming” the West, ravaging the Native American and animal populations along the way. It’s like this idea of forsaking society’s expectations and throwing caution to the wind in pursuit of a nomadic lifestyle full of adventure and freedom is the new, even stranger incarnation of Manifest Destiny. Instead of a societal destiny to “redeem and tame” the wild American West, we have this personal, internal calling to prove our own freedom and originality to ourselves by shirking responsibility and allowing our free spirits to guide us. I think there is a lot of merit to this millennial manifesto, but I also think it can be taken too far and can lead to a reckless propensity for great big, stupid risks. Yes, adventure inherently involves some risk, but that risk can be measured and prepared for; some risks are just plain unnecessary and not worth the potential reward.
Perhaps Musafa said it best in The Lion King: “Brave doesn’t mean you go looking for trouble.”
Seeking adventure doesn’t mean seeking needless danger. Adventure is about keeping your sense of wonder, it’s about trying things you’ve never tried before. Adventure is about going outside your comfort zone. Adventure is about personal growth. Adventure is not about undue risk.
How do we define adventure, then? Continue reading in my follow-up post, What is Adventure, Anyway?
What do you think? Is every risk worth taking? Where do you draw your line? Share it in the comments!
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